When I was young I would occasionally see an old movie that felt clearly dated and I would ask myself if nobody perceived these elements in the movie as being stale at the time. I couldn’t imagine people not recognizing the stiff acting or really crappy special effects, but being in my thirties now I’ve come upon movies I loved as a teenager but 20 years later don’t hold up as well as I though they would be. One of those movies I have these sentiments about is a movie I just watched again recently: Demolition Man.
In Demolition Man Sylvester Stallone is John Spartan; A rogue cop who goes to great lengths to bring criminals to justice even if that means blowing up complete buildings. When his longtime nemesis Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is finally apprehended by him, 20 bus passengers Phoenix held hostage are supposedly killed in an explosion the people hold Spartan responsible for. Even though these hostages were dead before Spartan came in he’s still held accountable for these deaths resulting in a long sentence in a cryo-prison where both he and Phoenix are placed in a suspended state of animation. Skip to 2032 where Phoenix is defrosted for a parole hearing and subsequently escapes. Now a peaceful utopia without any sort of violence, the cops of the city of San Angeles are no match for the extremely violent Phoenix leaving them to only one option: release Spartan as well so they can “send a maniac to catch one”.
When I was 16 I watched this movie for the first time and loved it and a little over ten years ago I rated it a 7 on the IMBD. This week, twenty years after I originally saw it, I watched it again and to my surprise really found it to be a rather flawed and dated movie. First of all it falls in the same pitfall that most science fiction movies do: They have this misprediction of the future, and the future presented in Demolition Man isn’t that realistic to begin with. It has this goofy pacifist community where crime has (almost) completely been wiped out and people great each other with “be well”. Everything that is bad for you has been made illegal and unlike the prohibition a century earlier people actually obey the law and don’t drink, smoke or eat junk food. It’s basically a vegan’s wet dream. Even sex is now done through some virtual reality interface and all the pregnancies are done through an IVF-treatment, if you can obtain the license as a couple. In this strange future the police don’t have much to do other than trying to apprehend a couple of rebels who live underground, occasionally spray graffiti and rob a truck for food. They try to live their lives as people in the previous century did as much as possible.
This pacifist society is the hardest part to swallow of Demolition Man as there is no way humans could have “evolved” in such a way they have become so passive and mellow. Nobody curses and if someone does other people react shocked, when trying to apprehend Phoenix the officers actually have a tablet instructing them how to address the fugitive and when he doesn’t reply they have no clue how to respond.
Another thing I found to be dated is Wesley Snipes’ acting. I probably loved this performance twenty years ago, but now I find him to be pretty bland and annoying actually. He’s constantly over-acting, spouting one-liners, talking to himself and he’s basically a cartoon character. He has no depth, no backstory what so ever. It’s a one-note performance which actually got in my nerve really fast now. The most depressing thing about his character is that it actually was responsible for Dennis Rodman to start deying his hair and provide him with inspiration for his character in Double Team.
Even the movie itself is so clearly a product of its time. In the 80’s guys like Stallone would just portray these one man armies throwing over governments or winning boxing matches. Aside from doing comedies the 90’s required something more from this type of actor so they started mixing their action movies up with sci-fi elements. Total Recall and Timecop are just two examples of this type of movie. Demolition Man is a mash-up of a lot of genres: action, science-fiction, satire, comedy and it also wants to convey a message about how a community without crime is not that ideal at all; how the end doesn’t justify the means or something like that. The message is as convincing as Rocky Balboa bringing East and West together at the end of Rocky IV.
Yet despite my negative remarks, enough other stuff still works. The set design, especially the vehicles holds up pretty well. Most science fiction movies like to overdo it (flying cars) or have too exotic or even ugly designs that you can’t imagine anyone will actually buy like the cars in Timecop. Then again there are people who have paid good money for a Fiat Multipla. Oh if you can only imagine the good that money could have done.
Sandra Bullock is part of the annoying future people but her knack for comedy makes her much more bearable than the rest of her fellow cast. There also aren’t any notable bad special effects, something which is common with movies that have been made over ten years ago. Most of the effects in Demolition Man are practical and they are still convincing.
I really find it difficult to rate Demolition Man. Ten years ago I thought it was worth a 7/10, yesterday I only thought is was worth a 5/10 probably because I had higher expectation going into this movie I already knew what to expect of. So I’m taking the middle road here and will award it with a 6/10.